23 November 2012

Your Good Mother, Part The Second

Along similar motivation of the Dee Feat series, herewith the second (for the sake of settling on a number) in our Good Mother series. This report in today's news reminded me of this other device, reported on by "60 Minutes" among others.

So, as Your Good Mother constantly reminds you: "what would the world be like if everybody behaved like you?" (She isn't necessarily literate enough with to know which preposition to use!) Once again, particularly from the Hawaii story, it's quite possible to bring overall degradation to an economy (and its society) by going all in on Rand.

At what point is the individual, especially acting in consort with some number of others, obliged to temper actions based on externalities? For those who worship at the feet of Adam Smith (the real one), the question is a bit more piquant, since his most famous text assumes that there are no externalities! Quants, working as they almost always do, for individual actors (in the context of some market, not humans) are described by micro-economic arguments. Again, externalities are assumed away. Not a good, or honest, thing to do. One might strongly argue that The Great Recession came about just because the quants (at the behest of The Suits) took explicit advantage of the fact that their companies would be protected from meeting the demands of the externalities of what they did. The micro point of view, of course, denies culpability for externalities: "those on the other side of the transaction are obligated to caveat emptor". Again, if everybody does "it", there's no way to mitigate the externalities except by taxing the community at large. And the bad actors get to keep their gains.

Another example, charter schools. Evidence is piling up that charter/private schools, particularly those catering to "inner city" students, don't do any better at educating, overall, than the public schools from which they rob moolah. As with spontaneous cancer remissions (every type has some, small, number of long term survivors), a few success stories of individual students can be cited. I'm always reminded of my local nutball, Linda McMahon, who propounded that, since "she" (actually, her equally nutball hubby) had become a millionaire, everybody else could, too. What such folks neatly elide: if everyone were a millionaire, a loaf of bread would cost everybody $10,000 (give or take a few thousand). Just because one can cite a single success from some policy, doesn't make the policy intelligent for the community. Not that the Rand-ians care about the community.

In all three cases, we have the problem of: divide and conquer (the Big Uns surreptitious way to win), where only those who can afford the individualized alternative get the good/service. The earliest example, in recent history, was White Flight in the 1960s. Suburban communities morphed into wealth by denying the common good; one might even see this as the continuation of Manifest Destiny (a stretch, but not by much). Many Christian schools are rooted in such communities; they don't get the irony, of course.

Now, I'm not a fan of The Power Grid, and never was. The first great blackout happened when I was a child, and I lived in it. To my surprise, the wiki piece does mention the point germane to this missive: Holyoke, an abutting town, had its own standalone powerplant (you can see it from Route 5 or I-91) and got along just fine. The justification for The Grid is load/demand balancing across time/space. I'm not sure of the physics, but transmission loss is not insignificant (the Bloom Energy piece states that avoiding said loss is a meaningful part the advantage). So far as Your Good Mother is concerned: what should be the unit of community where externalities exist? For power, it would seem to be the community (city/town). Holyoke wasn't, and isn't, like the Hamptons with hordes of upper-middle class folks fleeing the hoi polloi. Mostly hoi polloi, in fact.

One could even extend a power grid analysis to the au courant meme: The Cloud. I'll leave that as an exercise to The Reader.

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